Derek Brad // Derek Brad Photo
Bok Nero and Jahlil Beats are an unlikely pair. While rapper Bok grew up moving all over Philadelphia (a majority of his time spent up in North Philly), producer-songwriter Jahlil grew up in Chester, Penn., a 30-minute drive from the city. But both men have had walked wildly different paths in music.
Jahlil was born into it. His dad is a producer and was in a band, and Jahlil himself was already making beats by the age of 11 and doing so alongside his brother The Beat Bully by age 15. In 2008, Jahlil met Meek Mill and the two started collaborating, but his first high-profile production came while working with Tyga and Chris Brown on their collaborative project Fan of a Fan. Later, he created the sounds for Fabolous' "Tonight" off the There Is No Competition 2: The Grieving Music EP. Having proved his talent, Jahlil signed to Roc Nation in 2012.
But Bok's trajectory wasn't as clear-cut. His family didn't have a musical edge like Jahlil's but, as a kid, Bok started writing poetry, then began battle rapping in high school and eventually writing songs. "My whole thing was, I just want to be myself on anything I did," he said. "I'm a kid from the hood who walked around with colored hair."
In 2010, Bok formed the punk-rap band Blonde Gang, and though they were only together for two years, they had a strong run, at one point even selling out Philly's Theatre of Living Arts. But when the band broke up, Bok got to pursue the type of music he really wanted to: an EDM-hip-hop hybrid.
Bok and Jahlil have since released their first collaborative project Lorde of Legions (which dropped earlier this month), a four-track EP that runs the gamut of electronic dance music. Here, the two talk about how they first met, how they find a mutual understanding as musicians and why they're venturing into EDM together.
Bok, you spent part of your career in the band Blonde Gang.
Bok Nero: Yeah, we pretty much cultivated the culture of the city from a different aspect. Philly is popular and known for, like, street music. But we took the aggression from the street music and just turned it into punk-rap. That’s pretty much what got me to EDM.
When did you really delve into EDM?
BN: Once I went solo. I was doing it in the midst of [Blonde Gang], but I started doing it more when I was doing my own thing, probably since 2011.
How are you able to merge different genres?
BN: I took to being myself and just applied it to all those things. If I wanna do EDM music, I'ma do EDM music. At the end of the day, it's emotion. I feel like once you're true to yourself and true to who you are, it's not hard to like combine anything, as long as you're being real with yourself.
Jahlil, how did the Philly music scene inform your musical career?
Jahlil Beats: Just coming up listening to Beanie Sigel and the whole State Property movement and the whole Roc-A-Fella movement. My goal, my dream was always to create my own movement as well — as powerful as that, or maybe even more powerful. As far as music, Philly has a rich background in music. You look at Eve, you look at Will Smith. It's so many people from Philly.
How did you two originally get together?
JB: Well first of all, I met Bok through my partner [who] brought Bok to my studio. He played me his records, and I was just blown away. I think Bok represents this new sound from Philly. Moreso trap-EDM and a whole different wave that's going on right now with Lil Uzi [Vert] and PnB Rock. I wanted to be one of the first dudes to capitalize off of that. We just got in the studio, we went to LA with Steve Aoki, we just knocked out some bangers.
Your musical backgrounds are both wildly different. How do you both find common ground with each other?
BN: With him being like a legend in my eyes and just having so much work, and then me just being new on the scene and in the industry, and then knowing what I wanna do and the impact I wanna have, it just made sense.
JB: Just asking him what he wants and trying to do that. With [our song] "No Problems," he wanted an EDM feel to it, so we just tried to make it an anthem. I wanted to do me and try to tweak it in Bok's favor. I really didn't want to change his sound, especially from the records I heard before I started working with him. So I just want him to do him and maybe I can mold him and make a sound behind Bok.
Bok, why do you think Dim Mak is a good fit for you?
BN: Like I said, we got Jahlil holding down the street culture with hip-hop and then we have Steve Aoki and Dim Mak, which is one of the most popular house names in the world. So I bridged the gap because I'm able to do both, I bring those two worlds together. It just makes sense to me. I've seen this lane happening before it even existed; I knew what I wanted to do and I knew where I wanted to take the music.
Why call the joint EP Lorde of Legions?
BN: Well, if you're a lorde of a legion, you're basically a commander of a unit in an army. I look at myself as a commander of a unit in an army in the sense of me taking this EDM-hip-hop sound and just waging war with it. I'm basically waving a flag and saying 'this is a the new wave' and I'm going to conquer the music industry. We're standing all at attention, ready to fight.
JB: The concept is just epic — the EP is epic. There's a real big sound behind it. We wanted to fuck the streets up, as well as the EDM side, especially when we go touring and all. We wanted something with high energy. It's Lorde of Legions. We about going to war in the studio and making an anthem, making people turn up.
The EDM sound is pretty heavy-handed on "No Problems," moreso than the other songs on your project. Why's that?
BN: Actually, the first three songs cater to EDM. "No Problems" is more traditional mixed with hip-hop, but if you listen to "Hop Out Da Phantom," which is more trap music, it's still an electronic sound. And then you got "Stoop Kid" which is a mesh of hip-hop and EDM. The cadence of EDM is still in all of these songs, it's just in different forms — it's presented different. I knew for a first go-around to introduce the world to hip-hop-EDM, you can't go full-force. I'm an unknown artist. I basically wanted to spoon-feed this stuff to the people. That's why there's not as much of a "No Problems" sound on the entire shit.
Jahlil, Lorde of Legions isn't like the music you're known for. What about EDM interests?
JB: Absolutely. I've been DJing for about six years, and I always been a fan of EDM. I just wanted to take my brand to the next level and expand with EDM. I did a couple records with Skrillex — we actually did an EP together. We got the record with Vic Mensa called "No Chill." We had the same booking agent, so I just wanted to explore that field, experiment in a new genre.
Relive when REVOLT interviewed Jahlil Beats earlier this year.